Imperial Metals’ annual meeting of shareholders received a not-so-warm welcome from activists and Indigenous warrior women on Wednesday in downtown Vancouver.
Impassioned voices spoke to the devastation left behind after a massive tailings pond breach at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold and copper mine in August 2014. Twenty-five million cubic metres of toxic waste transformed a small four-foot-wide creek into a massive gorge, making its way into the Fraser River watershed, one of the greatest salmon spawning grounds in the world.
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At the protest, police struggled to hold back a group of roughly 40 people, who nearly gained access to the lobby of the hotel where the meeting was held. Shareholders inside had to use an alternate exit as the lobby was shut down.
In one disturbing confrontation captured on video, a shareholder angrily responded with racist stereotypes about lazy natives living on welfare when Indigenous activists tried to explain their right to their land.
Sacheen Seitcham from Ancestral Pride, a group seeking to assert Indigenous juridiction over traditional lands, used a megaphone to warn shareholders and executives of the risks associated with operating a mine on First Nations land that has never been surrendered in any treaty, sale, or war.
“The legal grounds on which this corporation has built its operations is shifting rapidly,” said Seitcham. “Imperial Metals does not have free, prior and/or informed consent of the Indigenous nations it is consistently encroaching on. This puts Imperial Metals in a very precarious situation, a position that is made even more precarious by the enormity of the Mount Polley mine disaster and the continuing lack of ability or will of the corporation to effect any real restoration physically or otherwise to the Secwepemc for the losses they continue to suffer as a result.”
The protest came only a month after another action organized by the same women targeted the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas on April 29, in the final days of its review to determine whether the Mount Polley mine could reopen. Coordinated solidarity events occurred on the same day in Vancouver, Toronto, Kamloops, Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Portland.
Ricochet spoke to Kanahus Manuel from the Secwepemc division of the Woman’s Warrior Society. Her traditional territory is home to the Mount Polley mine and another proposed Imperial Metals’ project, the Ruddock Creek mine.
“We did confront some shareholders that were heading into the Imperial Metals AGM. They were very racist to us as Indigenous women,” said Manuel. “It really shows clearly that we are operating within a racist country, a racist society. These corporations like Imperial Metals come into our communities with that racism when they are making decisions. They do not think of us as the Indigenous people of this land, they think of us as welfare recipients and bums.”
The atmosphere inside the shareholders meeting was similar. Eileen Floody, a shareholder from Clayoquot territory, said she was prevented from even tabling a motion that asked for a representative of Secwepemc territory to be heard.
As Seitcham explained, “It just goes to show that Indigenous rights and title and our unceded territories mean nothing to these corporations.”